Thursday 18 January 2018

Matt Healy's try ensures Connacht maintain winning start to Challenge Cup

Connacht  15 Worcester Warriors   8

Matt Healy, right, is congratulated by his teammate Cian Kelleher of Connacht after scoring his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 2 match between Connacht and Worcester Warriors at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Matt Healy, right, is congratulated by his teammate Cian Kelleher of Connacht after scoring his side's second try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 5 Round 2 match between Connacht and Worcester Warriors at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Connacht maintained their 100pc start to the Challenge Cup with a hard-fought win over Worcester Warriors but their injury count is a serious concern ahead of their clash against Munster next week.

The Westerners had began their European adventure on the back of three straight defeats but the change of scenery has certainly done their confidence the world of good.

First half injuries to James Connolly and Eoin Griffin were followed by three more to Tiernan O'Halloran, Quinn Roux and Dominic Robertson-McCoy. They face a six-day turnaround before Munster arrive when the PRO14 resumes next Friday.

The conditions at the Sportsground were a world away from what they enjoyed in Geneva last weekend and even though they made it difficult for themselves at times in the strong wind and rain, Connacht dug out a gritty victory that keeps them top of the pool.

Tries in either half from Eoghan Masterson who marked the occasion of captaining the province for the first time and Matt Healy ensured that Connacht backed up last week's win over Oyonnax with another.

Donncha O'Callaghan came off the bench for the final 16 minutes to a warm ovation from the home crowd but the former Munster and Ireland lock couldn't help turn the tide in his side's favour.

Connacht are a joy to watch when they are in full flight, their opening try was evidence of that, but there are times when they should play the percentages more often and they were guilty here of not doing so enough.

The one moment of quality in what was otherwise a very stop-start first half came from O'Halloran and it was the full-back's spark that created the home side's first try after six minutes.

Having won a scrum inside their own half, rather than play for the corner with a huge wind at their backs, the ball was shifted right to O'Halloran who turned on the afterburners to leave a couple of Worcester defenders behind him before Darragh Leader went haring down the right wing.

Leader was stopped just short of the whitewash but the backup was quickly on the scene and after great work at the breakdown, the ball was recycled for Masterson who powered over from close range.

It was just the start that Kieran Keane would have been demanding from his side but despite domination both territory and possession from there, Connacht's accuracy in difficult conditions halted their momentum.

Worcester were happy to soak up the pressure against the wind but Jack Carty punished their indiscipline when he fired over a 21st minute penalty to atone for his earlier conversion miss.

The error count from both sides was continuing to rise as Connacht kept looking to shift the ball wide at every opportunity.

They were almost made to pay for not making their dominance count more on the scoreboard when Worcester knocked the ball on with the line at their mercy five minutes before the break.

Connacht lost another two players inside the first nine minutes after the restart but it was one of their earlier replacements who was beginning to have a big impact on proceedings.

Jarrad Butler made two strong carries in quick succession to bring his side deep into Worcester territory. Craig Ronaldson almost got over after a sumptuous offload from Bundee Aki but when he knocked on, the momentum suddenly in the visitor's favour.

Buoyed by that crucial turnover on their own line, Worcester struck for a try of their own totally against the run of play. A Connacht mistake in midfield was punished when Gerrit-Jan van Velze broke and fed Chris Pennell who in turn put Josh Adams over in the corner to cut the gap (8-5) after 51 minutes.

That stunned the home crowd into silence but they found their voice seven minutes later when Healy raced onto a perfectly weight dink through from Carty to score Connacht's second try. Carty's conversion pushed the hosts into a 15-5 lead with 22 minutes left on the clock.

The gap was cut again when Jono Lance added a late penalty but it was too little too late as Connacht hung won for an important, ugly win.

 

Connacht - T O’Halloran (C Kelleher 55); D Leader, B Aki, E Griffin (C Ronaldson 27), M Healy; J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion, 54); D Buckley (P McCabe 72), D Heffernan (S Delahunt, 54), D Robertson-McCoy (C Carey 43); Q Roux (C Gallagher 49), J Cannon; E McKeon, J Connolly (J Butler 2), E Masterson (capt).

 

Worcester Warriors – C Pennell; T Howe (P Humphreys 58), W Oliver, J Willison, J Adams; J Lance, J Arr (M Dowsett 49-58, 69); E Walker (R Bowe 64), J Singleton (M Williams 69), G Milasinovich (S Kerrod 54); P Phillips (D O'Callaghan 64), W Spencer; D Denton, A Faosoliva GJ van Velze (capt) (H Taylor 54).

 

REF: I Davies (Wales)

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